A good name is rather to be chosen than riches. – King Solomon
We all know the old rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” We also know how much of a lie it is. Names hurt. They are the invisible scars on our souls that we carry forward until our dying day. Names, name calling, are like tiny grenades thrown at us exploding our confidence, our identity and our security. Names are powerful.
King Solomon, heralded as the wisest man on earth, once said, “A good name is rather to be chosen than riches.” This is equally true when we are naming our characters. And naming our characters can be hurtful to our work or helpful. So how do you go about naming your characters so that what name you give them helps your readers understand who they are, who they are not, and maybe even a glimpse into their character?
Some simple suggestions:
1. Have a baby name book nearby. This is a great resource for looking up names, meanings of the names and country of origins. If you protagonist is an Irish immigrant finding a name from Ireland would be a necessity, baby name books are invaluable for finding such a name.
2. An old phone book. I know of a writer who chooses a first name from the phone book and then randomly chooses a last name from the phone book. This writer’s work tends to be set in modern day and in modern settings, so this works for him.
3. Look up words in different languages that may have to do with your characters personality, fate or struggles. For example, in my historical fiction novel set in ancient Rome one of my character’s fate is death by fire. He is a young jewish boy. I looked up words in Hebrew that related to his fate and settled on the name Uriah, which means fire.
4. Look up names, first, middle, and last that were common during the era you have set your work in. Make a list of these names and then choose a name from each category that you believe works with your characters.
5. Keep a running list of names that you come across that you like. Keep that list somewhere handy so that when you begin writing a new piece you can turn to this source and pick a name from the list. It certainly helps to have a quick reference of names to refer to.
There you have it. Some simple tips to help you name your character so that their name speaks of who they are, what era they are from and potentially what their fate is. Choose wisely, because names hurt and we don’t want to hurt our characters.
But, before you go please enjoy a Poetry Slam about “Names” and tell me if names are not important!
Until Next Time…Happy Naming!